Yay! Finally, it's out there, the huckster come-on to end all come-ons, the billboard at the end of the universe, the signpost to eternity, the answer to the question of what's it all about? Life, the Universe, and Everything?
I confess, of course, that this is not original with me. Somewhere on the Internet I found a reference to an actual combative billboard "Glorify Darwin - Evolve Beyond Belief!", but I don't want to be combative. I don't really want to be ironical either. I guess I really do aspire to funny, but there's scant hope of that.
But really now, what is belief? I have plenty of faith that the sun will come up tomorrow (and that if it doesn't there's utterly no point in thinking about it). I have about the same faith that the ground will be there when I place one foot in front of the other.
And I have utterly no interest to know what becomes of "me" after I die. Alright, like Tom and Huck and Joe, I'm curious, but it's not that big a mystery.
That's the part which will stick in some people's craw. But I really don't get why it should. I don't extend beyond my skin, do I? Why should I extend beyond my time span? Why would I want to?
I can't even be defined as me without some shapely boundaries to contain me. They have a recognizable and persistent form, each and every one of them, and like my squiggle on the dotted line when I sign my name, I can see me in an instant, even if others might be fooled.
My motions and emotions also leave distinctive traces, shaped in others' hearts and minds even while not reproducible. Except indirectly through words or movies or others' tellings you might know me. It is the me that's not quite reproducible. I guess they know it when they see it, my friends and family. Most can tell the mockery from the real me, even as I cringe beneath it, finding too much of me sometimes, in what others reflect back.
Sure, I have had plenty of occasion to be unnerved, finding myself where I didn't know I was. Sometimes I even have the pleasant discovery of my very own work, years and years later, still holding up. I can hardly credit it as mine, but then the memories start flooding in. Oh yeah, that was me! I recognize my signature shortcomings, the slip-ups of my chisels, right along with what I did that endures.
I have even more experience with someone mistaking me for someone else that they have known. I guess I have a common enough face, or maybe it's distinct enough that it rings a bell which triggers a memory of someone else distinct? Yeah, that must be it. Surely there's no-one who can be mistaken for moi?
Or what about when some old highschool classmate remembers me and I don't remember him? I get the name first, the face slowly resolving into something vaguely familiar, but still I can't make who he was when I actually knew him come back to mind quite presently. It happens all the time with former students.
I know that I have a weakness in that regard. I find it impossible to remember song lyrics, which is my lame defense against inevitable allegations of being absorbed in myself when I don't remember who you are. Absurdly, I studied classical Chinese poetry in college, a discipline which utterly depends on memorizing a massive literary corpus. Talk about misplacement!
A signal memory in my life was being selected to play Father Time back in kindergarten. I flubbed my lines, and couldn't stop laughing up on stage, holding a staff as I remember, my head covered in a ridiculous white sheet covered in cotton balls that I had made myself.
I have no memory of whether the audience of parents was laughing with me, or if I peed my pants. I do know that no-one ever made the mistake again to put me in any theatrical leads. (Well, except for when I tried to introduce the Chinese acrobats - in Chinese no less! - for a fundraiser to rescue the failing school I then was heading. I'm pretty sure I flubbed that one too).
I'm pretty sure Mom was mortified for me, or was she too laughing uncontrollably? I'll see if she remembers when I see her later tonight. I hate to pin my shyness on her without checking my facts, but let's hope she's quite forgotten.
What you really do remember about someone is what animates those familiar shapes; in particular the face, though one old classmate told me she only recognized me by my walk. I guess otherwise I might have passed unnoticed and unremarked.
I have a moustache and wear glasses, which means that my entire faculty could mock me once, all of them up on stage, putting on five and dime store Groucho Marx noses, and each or was it all sporting maybe one or two of what they thought I might not have seen about myself the way that they did. If it was love or hatred, I had to take it all the same, and will not soon forget it. I am too bashful to claim love, but I will choose it every time. It chains me to my pain, and kept me fighting for that school too, which fight I also flubbed.
Gradually, usually, you remember the person as an identity. In common parlance, you remember their heart; or at least the heart of the thing you remember is whatever it is that does, in fact, remain constant over all the years of our lives. It's not a static quality. It's an animating force. It defines an individual.
Imagine if it didn't! We then would die over and over again in the course of just one "life". I know some tricksters try for that, some sociopathic liars. We hear all the time about people waking up one day to find out who their spouse really was.
I don't mean the sexual infidelities, I mean the really big stuff. We're just fooling ourselves if we don't think the thinker in our pants has a mind of its own. Drawn as it is to beauty it must impale or torture or treat as dirt even while the controlling mind conjurs words like soulmate. And fear defines your makings up too, all liars to yourselves. Especially when you insist that she must like it when you act like a perfect beast. Especially when you think that you must be in control.
But did those people ever really live? I'm not talking about the one who got fooled. I'm talking about the trickster. I've had occasion to wonder if being "born again" can also be a way to hide instead of to own up to who you really are. Disappearing from social commerce to bury your nose in rote-ish words. Escaping to some wilderness. Hiding behind rules of behavior and dress. Formulaic "praise god" greetings.
Why not call that thing which identifies us for our whole life long our heart? I've always liked the fact that in Chinese the metaphor of center - their term for heart - indicates both the literal and figurative center; in English the emotive heart as well as the intellectual mind. They even use a similar term to define their state, although it seems they might have betrayed its character lately. The Central Construct ("Middle Kingdom" so passé).
Here in the West, we still seem pretty caught up with beginnings and endings. With a causal universe - a created universe - and with our own ability to take control, through technology's extension of our grasp, of as much as we possibly can.
Now those Godless Chinese are proving to be even more predatory than we are in their gougings of the Earth. Let's hope they find their Center again, lest their recurrent epochal re-carvings of manly patterns on the face of too-wild earth finally does destroy it. Unless we in the West get to it first. Our race is still for the wilderness, the outer space, the rapture, the end of it all, the perfect perpetual motion machine.
The entire civilization of the globe now is under our American Corporatocratic thumb, as innocently propagated as blue jeans. Let's hope that civilization itself is not destroyed by this mad importation by China, just for example, of something which makes their notion of civilization - the placing of heart in Earth's wildness by bringing the constancy of the heaven's down here to everchanging Earth, which is what the term for "writing", radically, means - let's hope that this fine figure does not get fully displaced by Western machinery for the carving of dragons.
Let's hope we regain our balance first.
In the West we feel still compelled to separate our control center from our responsive emotive center - our mind from our heart - and somehow feel, almost desperately, that when we lose control, we've lost our life. Forgetting that we have almost no control over what others think of us; at least none that technology can help with. Unless you're willing to accept the airbrushed photoshopped object as the person you really do love.
We have lots of control over how we respond to those around us. And a large part of what might get called our character relates intimately to how gracefully we leave off where we don't belong. How we zip our pants. How we enclose our private spaces.
We do end at our skin, yes, and before these last very few centuries of civilized history, our physical control mostly ended at and with our fingers.
Our fingernails such weak tools for gouging, it has been our toolmaking which enabled our peak survival as Earth's temporarily most fit creatures.
Still more recently, we learned to project our hearts out across space and even time, through writing and its related technologies. Through media, more generally. And now our media has become massive in a two-way direction, dear God!
What would have happened in China way back when the written language was always and only a technology for truing hearts toward civilization's center, where a living Imperial Superstar did actually live? Where bureaucrats were trained in poetry, but where the Imperial accountings also worked their way through language. What would mass literacy have done to that Imperial Church? Would it have exposed their deep corruption? Would people have demanded direct relationships to their own truths?
How very nice of Google now, to help China's single party put the governor on this gathering movement, though they say, at least, the fact that something's being blocked is still exposed, if not the thing that's stoppered.
I'm not waiting for the 'Net now dialogic to come awake. But I sure am waiting for the mass-mediated people to do so. And honestly, I don't really know from Left or Right, which side has the best moral compass. I do know who's shouting loudest now. Who lacks all grace. But none who represent us may be the best of us right now. And shouting is sometimes all that's left, when you feel ignored and marginalized.
Now there seem to be some among us, literally enraptured by our technologies, who think that "information technologies" will extend our controlling reach into some kind of infinity. I recently learned that a term had been coined for this: the Geek Rapture. Peels of howling laughter from this quarter (hey, I'm a geek).
Intelligence is as intelligence does, and I don't think it's very smart to separate, even in language, our emotional from our intellectual center. I will never actually care that much for my machines.
When my control ends, I am not dead and gone. I might easily be in love, enraptured by what I find around me, giving myself over to something that rightly is not only more powerful than me, but that I wouldn't want to control even if I could. When my intelligence stops, I might simply be sleeping or drugged or taking a break to let some mediated entertainment in. I might be meditating. I might be listening.
And I also do think that even though I end right at my skin, there is also a me which can be conjured from all the ones who know me and have known me and that sometimes that me is more me than the one I think I know myself. The one I think I inhabit. I mean after all, there are lots and lots of things about myself I just can't stand to look at, think about or emotionally own up to.
My own mom now is at that scary place in her life. She just bought some very expensive lenses to replace the ones she was born with which had become clouded over with cataracts. Thank goodness, as with my home mortgage, the money brokers aren't allowed to discriminate on the basis that I'll be dead before it's paid for.
Well, OK, in the case of my home mortgage, it's just space and land to be bought and sold, and I'm already getting out of that market. I'm too old to keep up with owning a house already (there's a wink in there somewhere).
But I wouldn't have the choice if someone matched the actuarial tables against the paydown mortgage schedule. Hell, if you dig deeply enough, I think you'll find those two concepts even share a set of linguistic or at least mathematical roots.
But I am glad there is no-one telling Mom that she won't live long enough to take full advantage of her new bionic eyes. And I rather hope that when I'm there on my deathbed, as my dear uncle "Bud" was just yesterday, society will be humane enough to give me the choice not to live out my last moments in terror and in pain.
I rather hope that the Godists - the ones who think they have a patent on what God could mean - will have relinquished their stranglehold on what we can say in public and still become a leader. I hope that they will have learned to relinquish their fear, and to find something more like faith than their far too hotly protested "beliefs".
Their faith in God, those Bible thumping evangelicals and Taliban - now there's a fine distinction - seems about as odd as would be my belief if I doubted that the sun would come up tomorrow. I think they have no faith at all. I think they protest way too much. I think they are terrified of what they do not feel, but unlike Mother Theresa, say, don't even continue to act as if they do. I think they are God-o-phobes. There, now I'll lay claim to that term. People who must destroy what they are afraid of in themselves.
I get the power of being "born again," I really do. It's a way to take on a new character, to shed the old that by its being clung to meant clinging to all the mistakes and flaws and fallings short which cannot be rectified except up against something so much more powerful and mysterious and graceful than anything wrought by man.
I get that. I get that truing oneself against words which have rung true across the generations is probably a good idea. I get that there are many many Christians who live their faith, and that young Muslims who strap bombs to their bodies, when they aren't tricked into it, are earnest in their approach to something beyond earthly power.
But the spirit dies even in words. These words, especially when forced into the artificial man-made container of literalness, into which no words - none - can be made to fit, are long dead, and their purveyors are pandering fear now. Love is a far simpler matter than the mystery they would make it.
As if we could interfere with God by taking things into our own hands. As if the Earth would allow it, never mind some reified projection of what man would do if he were perfect. My God is so far beyond man that he doesn't even have a name. Hell, call him Bud.
It is simple care that we must exercise as humans. Not infinite care. Not terrorized capitulation to some human words which inflated hypocrites mesmerized by their own voices scare us into thinking came from God. God doesn't need to speak to me in human language for me to glorify his sacred heart. Hell, I'd say the human language can only get in the way.
I'd say it's long past time to stop the shouting and the pointing fingers, and the sowing seeds of mistrust.
And, for my kicker, I actually do think that love should direct the course of evolution. I actually think it always has. And always will. Any other construing of the far-fetched and nearly infinitely long string of accidents which have become us rings hollow, cold, empty and devoid of meaning.
Hallelujah, for I'm a bum. Today my bank balance passes zero in the wrong direction. Again. But I'll own up to my one and only identity, and challenge every last born-again to come out of their sinning closet too. It is not my "soul" which endures. That is a dusty abstraction, designed to make me wish and long for an eternity which will never come. It is my heart which will never end if only I let if fill now.